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When Does Confessional Writing Cross the Line?

A conversation with several other writers sparked an interesting question: "if you write an essay about committing illegal acts, could you face criminal charges?" I'm no lawyer, but I'm definitely a rule-follower, and my first thought was, "why the heck would you own up to something illegal and make that confession public?" The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that there are plenty examples of authors do this, both in memoir and essay form, and as far as I know, none of them been arrested as a result of what they wrote. I'm sure this depends on the severity of the crime and how long ago it was. I can certainly see someone getting busted for over-sharing on a blog or Twitter if it was recent and really egregious. Plus, bloggers don't have the benefit of a publisher's legal team to advise on what details may cross the line. I can also see this happening in other parts of the world where someone's political views or sexual orientation could endanger them. I'm not encouraging anyone to commit a crime so they can write a tell-all essay or memoir, but I can certainly see why it would make deliciously readable material and why authors might want to 'fess up as a form of therapy, a way to unburden themselves of guilt and painful secrets. Here are a few examples:

  • AIDS Killed My Partner—But It Was His Decision To Die
  • Edible Weed: Marijuana Chicken Curry
  • My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant
  • Susan Shapiro's memoirs
All of these pieces have a raw poignancy to them (in fact, the first one made me cry), and I admire the authors for their honesty, even when it makes me uncomfortable. Still, I wonder about the answer to original question, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you read other confessional pieces like these? Have you heard of any authors or essayists facing charges for their writing? Do tell!

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When Does Confessional Writing Cross the Line? + secret